The most spectacular Russian military failures of all time

Events of 2016 have brought the sheer might of the Russian military into sharp focus.

The country’s involvement in bombing campaigns over the Syrian capital of Aleppo caused international outrage, and American intelligence agencies now believe that Russian military hackers influenced the US election in Donald Trump’s favour by releasing emails which were damaging to his rival Hillary Clinton.

For all their controversy, both cases have been strategically successful for Russia, with Aleppo now conquered by Russian-backed government forces, and Donald Trump installed as America’s president-elect.

The country’s military history is, however, dotted with a number of significant failures as well as successes. The following is a collection of some of the most ambitious military projects that resulted in spectacular failures.

* Thomas Hirst contributed the reporting to an earlier version of this article.

7. It was not Russia's only tank failure. The Soviet Union's T-80 was the first production tank to be equipped with a gas turbine engine when it was introduced in 1976.

However, soldiers operating the tank during the First Chechen War (1994 - 1996) found the machines unfit for the purpose of urban warfare, which they had been bought for. When the side armour of a tank was hit, unused ammunition inside the machine's autoloader exploded and destroyed the entire machine. The tank was such a failure that the Minister of Defence agreed never to order the tanks again.

6. The history of Russia's failed experiments with tanks goes back even further. The Tsar tank has achieved almost mythical status since the unusual vehicle was first tested in 1914. The armoured vehicle had a tricycle design, with two 9 metre spoked wheels and a smaller one behind.

Due to weight miscalculations, its tricycle design often resulted in its back wheel getting stuck while its lack of armour left its operators exposed to artillery fire. The machine did not get past a testing stage, and only one was ever made.

Wikipedia / CC 3.0
A model of the Tsar tank

5. The Raduga Kh-22 air-to-surface missile was designed as a long-range anti-ship missile to counter the threat of US aircraft carriers and warships.

4. The Mikoyan Project 1.44 (MiG 1.44) was the Soviet Union's answer to the US's development of its fifth-generation Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) in the 1980s.

3. Russia's flagship, the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, is the only Russian aircraft carrier in active service, having been fully operational since 1995.

It played a prominent role in Russia's bombing campaign in Syria, serving as the base for fighter jets involved in airstrikes, but it has been beset with problems over the years given its considerable age. In November 2016, one of Russia's MiG-29K Fulcrum crashed while attempting to land on the carrier. Weeks later a similar incident occurred, when a Su-33 jet crashed into the sea following a failed landing.


Unfortunately, the R-29RMU Sineva missiles failed to launch from the nuclear submarines Novomoskovsk and Karelia because of unspecified technical problems leaving a lot of red faces all around. Putin subsequently ordered his defence minister to conduct an urgent review of the programme.

1. Perhaps the most bizarre of Russia's recent military mishaps occurred in 2013, when shocked sunbathers on Russia's Baltic coast were confronted with a giant military hovercraft bearing down on them. A spokesperson from Russia's navy said the beach was supposed to have been cleared for the exercise.

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